Arts & Entertainment

Birthplace of hip-hop looks to capitalize on music genre’s popularity

By Sarah Yañez-Richards

New York, Jun 8 (EFE).- The foundations of hip-hop were being laid five decades ago in the South Bronx, an area of New York City that at that time was associated with drugs and violence.

A half-century later, that same district is now billing itself as the mecca of this music genre (also known as rap music) and looking to make tourism hay out of its climb from underground, marginal art form to a fixture of mainstream culture.

It all began on Aug. 11, 1973, at a party on 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the Bronx, where Jamaican-American Clive Campbell (better known by his stage name DJ Kool Herc) decided to try something new on his two-turntable set-up.

Using two copies of the same funk record, he pioneered a looping technique known as “The Merry-Go-Round,” which involved shifting from the “break” – the instrumental section that emphasized the drum beat – of one record to the break of the other and thereby giving people more time to express their creativity on the dance floor.

Grand Wizzard Theodore later introduced another technique known as scratching, a central tool in hip-hop whereby a DJ produces percussive or rhythmic sounds by moving a vinyl record back and forth on a turntable.

He developed that technique when he held a record still to pause it after his mother had told him to lower the volume of his music.

Gradually, the sound, rhythm, and dance style associated with that new music genre took shape at concerts and parties held in the South Bronx, at times even in dilapidated or abandoned buildings.

The term hip-hop itself, however, did not take hold for several more years, some time after The Sugarhill Gang’s song “Rapper’s Delight,” released in 1979, featured the lyrics “I said-a hip, hop, the hippie, the hippie / to the hip hip hop-a you don’t stop.”

Although major hip-hop figures have emerged from other areas of New York City – Brooklyn (The Notorious B.I.G.), Harlem (Puff Daddy) and Queens (Nas) – the Bronx remains a reference point because of old-school rappers like Grandmaster Flash, Fat Joe and KRS-One.

“Any hip-hop artist dreams of being in the Bronx,” Leonidas, a Chilean who has been rapping in the streets and metro stations of New York City since arriving in the Big Apple a year ago, told Efe.

Although his style is very different from original hip-hop – his sound is a mixture of merengue, house and hip-hop and he calls the Dominican duo Sandy & Papo his main influence – Leonidas said he has “a lot of respect” for underground rap.

“The Bronx is pure art. You have to create a good product because they criticize you, they tell you, ‘that’s not good, that doesn’t sound good.’ And if they see you have something good to offer, they say, ‘Oh, wow. That’s good brother. Respect,” the artist said.

Plans are now in the works to open the Universal Museum of Hip-Hop in late 2024 or early 2025 in a large building located on the banks of the Harlem River.

That cultural institution is being built at a cost of $80 million, with most financing coming from the city and state of New York, although $5 million in federal funding also was secured by US Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY).

Several exhibition halls in the museum will be dedicated to the past, present and future of that music genre and cultural movement, and it also will house two theaters and a terrace restaurant.

Its executive director, Rocky Bucano, expects the museum to be a major tourist attraction, noting that an exhibition space in the area that was opened ahead of that institution’s inauguration is attracting large crowds.

Bucano, who said most of those people had never been in the Bronx before, added that he expects the museum to be an important economic catalyst for that area of New York City.

Beyond hip-hop and tourism, the goal is for the museum to form part of the community in the South Bronx, which continues to be mainly populated by minority groups and low-income residents.

To that end, its two floors will occupy 52,000 square feet (4,837 square meters) of a 23-story building that will include more than 500 affordable housing units, as well as nearly three acres (1.2 hectares) of public open green areas and retail space. EFE

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